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F.C. Re-Elects Mayor, Rejects Anti-Development Referendum

Baroukh, Webb Win Council Seats, Hockenberry Falls

City of Falls Church voters returned Mayor Robin Gardner to a third term on the City Council Tuesday, providing her the highest vote total among seven candidates, and soundly defeated a ballot referendum aimed at deterring the pro-development direction of her leadership.

The anti-development referendum, which would have placed strict and arbitrary restrictions on projects in the City’s commercially-zoned corridors, went down to a 14-point defeat, 57% of voters casting “No” votes, to 43% voting “Yes.”

“The City as a whole knows we need mixed use development,” Mayor Gardner told a crowd assembled at a victory party after polls closed Tuesday night. “The vote against the referendum is a signal to us to continue to move forward judiciously and with great care.”

Winning election to the City Council for the first time were Nader Baroukh and Lawrence Webb, who with his election becomes the first openly gay Afro-American elected official in the history of Virginia (see story, elsewhere this edition). Coming up short in her bid for a third term was current Vice Mayor Lindy Hockenberry.

Joan Wodiska, Charlotte Hyland and Kieran Sharpe were elected to the School Board.

In this municipal election cycle in Falls Church, there were three seats contested on both the Council and School Board. In two years, four seats on each body will be up for election. Those elected this time will be sworn in on July 1, the same day each seven-member body will also elect a mayor and vice-mayor, and a School Board chair and vice-chair.

It is expected that Gardner will be re-elected to a second two-year term as mayor, although with the defeat of Vice Mayor Hockenberry, it is uncertain who will move into that slot. Gardner first became mayor in 2006 when six-year Mayor Dan Gardner chose not to seek re-election.

Baroukh, 36, a government attorney, won the second highest vote total for City Council. He was an outspoken critic of the recently approved $317 million Atlantic Realty City Center Project even though he served on a City task force that reviewed abd proposed changes to the plan. He also favored passage of the referendum.

Other Council candidates supporting the referendum, Ed Hillegass and Margaret Housen, came in distant fifth and sixth place, ahead of Patrice Lepczyk.

By the numbers, Gardner had 1,273 votes (20%), Baroukh 1,226 (19%), Webb 1,215 (19%), Hockenberry 1,176 (18%), Hillegass 807 (12%), Housen 590 (9%) and Lepczyk 231 (4%).

For the School Board, Wodiska got 1,464 votes (29%), Hyland 1,423 (28%), Sharpe 1,181 (23%) and Kim Maller 1,058 (21%).

For the referendum, the “Yes” vote total was 1,017 (43%), “No” 1,345 (57%).

The Falls Church Chamber of Commerce spearheaded the effort to defeat the referendum, which was also opposed by all the CBC candidates. The News-Press editorialized forcefully against its passage.

Baroukh was the top vote-getter for City Council in his home precinct, where his home is located adjacent to where the new City Center project will go.

In comments to the News-Press yesterday, Baroukh said that, foremost, he wanted to thank those who supported him in the election. “I look forward to working with other members of the Council the next four years. There will be challenges in the coming years and I look forward to addressing them.”

He added that as an Iranian-born citizen, “I get choked up at the thought of being elected to public office in this land. I’ve gotten choked up every time I’ve been in a voting booth.”

Since the Iranian revolution in the late 1970s, Baroukh said he and his family have been unable to return to Iran because of their Jewish heritage.

In a written statement to the News-Press issued yesterday, Mayor Gardner said, “I want to thank the citizens of Falls Church for supporting me this year. It is an honor to again be asked to serve. I take this responsibility seriously and will continue to do the best that I can.”

She added, “I especially want to thank Lindy Hockenberry, who has served this community for over 40 years, the last eight on the City Council, for her service. She has had a tremendous impact on our City and I am proud to have served with her and to call her my friend.”

Hockenberry’s loss by a mere 39 votes bore an uncanny resemblance to a 16-vote loss by then popular Vice Mayor Steve Rogers in 2002. “It ranks her with other highly-effective, progressive leaders in Falls Church history, such as Steve Rogers, Jeff Tarbert and Ed Strait, three great CBC councilors who also suffered re-election disappointment in 2002, 1996 and 1988, respectively,” wrote long-time F.C. community activist Phil Duncan.

“Such occasional disappointment at the polls is the price CBC pays for electing people of vision who are always pushing the City and schools forward, trying to make our local economy more modern and diversified, our community more inclusive, our services to the less fortunate more robust and, above all, our commitment to the children and teachers in our public education system the strongest in Virginia. Typically, this dedication to progress and excellence requires innovation and change, which discomfits some voters,” Duncan wrote yesterday.